Death Penalty – yay or nay?
Capital punishment also known as the death penalty has been abolished in Australia in 1973 with the last person being executed by hanging in 1967. These days it appears to be a non-issue and a topic of little concern in the public’s eyes.
I dug up this little snippet of Australian history on the subject when doing some reading into the arguments for and against capital punishment. Most Western countries have done away with death penalty laws, with a large exception being theUS(I think there are a few other small countries).
For that fact it’s clear that the topic is much weightier and stands as a greater topic of debate among the people on those shores. It flairs up every now and then when the media picks up odd cases and gives them unending coverage. There was just such a case featuring a man by the name of Troy Davis who was convicted on some murder charges and put to death by lethal injection last week. Davis was denying the charges, stating that he is innocent to the end. There were people in both camps, supporting Davis and others pleading for his death. The main controversy was that the evidence that tied him to the crime was questioned and that the state may have executed an innocent man.
I didn’t really following the case and don’t intend to discuss the minutia of the prosecution and the defence teams. Instead I wanted to write about what I feel are the best arguments for and against capital punishment and perhaps play a devils advocate for both. Why I decided to frame this post in such a manner will become clear at the end. When I present a particular argument I will borrow the quote from one of the number of authors I read on the subject. This is chiefly because the argument conveys what I was going to write anyway and because the author writes in good prose.
Against Capital Punishment
Since I reside in Australia that has abolished capital punishment, I will put down what I thought was the strongest argument against the practise first.
The argument is presenting the possibility of the person being innocent or perhaps the circumstances that have been overlooked that would at least mitigate the person’s punishment.
“A society that respects life should never permit itself to execute an innocent person if it is within the society’s capacity to avoid such an act — as it surely is. Refraining from executing even those persons who may deserve execution is the way — the only way — in which to avert the occasional execution of persons mistakenly convicted, and to leave open the possibility of their exoneration.”
“If execution of the innocent nevertheless is avoidable, a humane society will elect the option that avoids it. Most of those who murder are, after all, already spared. Sparing the small remainder is cheap insurance against the most terrible consequence of judicial fallibility.”
Devils advocate response/Rebuttal
Only the most serious of crimes are considered for execution and only if there is enough evidence to tie the person to the crime. With ever advancing forensic technology and techniques such as extraction of DNA, the possibility of wrongful conviction becomes less and less. If the justice system only allowed cases that had 100% certainly no one would be convicted of crimes as there would always be slivers of doubt.
The current legal system procedures already ensure that every case involving the death sentence meticulously examines & considers all the facts surrounding the case, which takes many years and man hours.
For Capital Punishment
The strongest argument I found for capital punishment was in the excerpt below that argues; nothing short of the death penalty would show justice in society for the most heinous crimes. The state has an obligation to carry out the execution for the sake of the victims and the charge of the State being as guilty as the murderer holds no merit.
“Executing a murderer is the only way adequately to express our horror at the taking of an innocent life. Nothing else suffices. To equate the lives of killers with those of victims is the worst kind of moral equivalency. If capital punishment is state murder, then imprisonment is state kidnapping, and restitution is state theft. A murderer sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole can still laugh, learn and love, listen to music and read, form friendships, and do the thousand-and-one things (mundane and sublime) forever foreclosed to his victims.”
Devils advocate response/Rebuttal
The family and close relations to the victims may not want to execute the person responsible for the crime. They may believe that the best punishment for the crime is indefinite life imprisonment. Especially with modern painless methods of executing people such as lethal injection, the justice wouldn’t be served. Perhaps the greater solace to the victim’s family is for the criminal to realise their crimes and suffer from deep remorse for the rest of their lives behind high security prison walls.
Finally the quote assumes that only capital punishment suffices for the grizzly crimes, as if some equilibrium is restored after the criminal is killed.
The reason I chose the above format becomes clear as the to and fro arguments demonstrate my mixed views. Perhaps both punishment methods have their strengths and weaknesses, with the society deciding which suits them best. There were a number of other arguments which were interesting but which I chose not to include even though they added to the complexity of the subject.
Just a final note, the part of me that supports capital punishment is only in favour of humane ways of ending the criminal’s life. That would rule out hanging, electric chair etc.